How Social Media Can Extinguish (or Ignite) Your PR Crisis

businesswoman on the phone during a call
businesswoman on the phone during a call

Whether your company is killing it on social media or getting by with a minimal presence, having a pre-baked crisis communication plan should be part of your comms DNA.

However, the reality is that a PR News/Nasdaq survey says nearly half of all companies are operating without a crisis communications plan. With the combination of mobile devices, the social saturation of markets, and our always-on 24/7 culture, even the smallest organizations are vulnerable to a trial by public scrutiny.

Unless you’re sitting on a United Airlines flight sipping a Pepsi, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Big News Debuts on Social

Too often organizations ignore the potential impact of their social media team and their tools until it’s too late. But as we all know, social media is where the latest news is being broadcast. If you lead a company, it’s time you took a proactive approach to partnering with your social media team. Sooner or later you will be working together, and collaborating is always more fruitful when your hair isn’t on fire.

No better time than the present to take advantage of their knowledge, their listening tools, social data, customer insights, and the boots-on-the-ground interaction that they enjoy with your customers. Making friends with the social media team now will help you later if (when) a crisis starts to flicker (or catches fire) since they own the fire extinguisher.

Proactive Planning is Strategic

Few of us do our best work when stakes are high. When you’re under enormous pressure to make things right is the time when communications break down and can even make matters worse. Teams are more likely to do good work when they have some history of collaboration.

Before any crisis hits, get clear on your communication strategy and operational priorities. Naming the individuals who will be actively engaged (and don’t forget to name alternates) team members, both for messaging and approval, as well as defining the what and how of your escalation plan should be top tasks.

Outlining and updating a communication strategy is much easier than writing in the trenches. By making it a habit of syncing with the team on a regular basis, you’ll have a better chance of being at the top of your game.  

Communication Plan

Don’t Put Your Holding Statement On Hold

Once you’ve named the team and defined your approach to escalation, it’s crucial to build a messaging framework.

The first order of business will be a holding statement that is in line with your company values statement. Just like an emergency kit that you keep during tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or fires, your best bet is having a virtual “bag” (file) that is at-the-ready with what you’ll need most.

When you’re faced with a crisis, ensuring that key stakeholders are ready to deliver key messages is vital. As is aligning your PR, C-Suite, and social teams with pre-approved messaging, so they can face journalists, your community, and the public. Having your holding statement(s) ready will assist with damage control and give you a foothold on owning the narrative.

If you are consulting with your social team throughout, they will be able to speak to what will resonate or get rejected by your audience. By doing the work ahead of time, and having a boilerplate copy and sample holding statements ready, you can buy time at a crucial moment. And you’ll keep on point, consistently aligned with your brand values.  

Know Your Team

It should be apparent that crisis comms are a process that requires teamwork. Stakeholders can make or break a crisis response. Getting buy-in from throughout the organization will help you to manage your bottom line. Sync with the C-Suite early by coming prepared. If they need convincing, you’re better off knowing in advance where they stand with social media and high stakes.  

Regional communications team group at table

Approach crisis communications as a collaboration while you have the luxury of low stakes teamwork. Don’t wait until it’s too late when your claim to fame will be getting the brand dragged on Twitter.  

To keep the C-Suite on top of brand mentions, trending topics, and geo-located trends, get a demo of Meltwater's Newsletters and Website Newsfeed. The best decisions during a crisis are those made before a crisis hits, but the second best decisions are those based on real-time data from your community.